Atelier d’Alves

We talk with Sergio Alves from Atelier d'Avles about everything from animation and game design, to walks downtown, to the role of humans in an increasingly digital world. Put your intellectual hat on because and take a deep dive into our discussion about the future of design and the relationship between analogue and digital.

What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?

Well, it’s quite difficult to think in what is the earliest creative memories. Let’s say a lot of my memories (the earliest ones) are memories because some one told me about that. For example: I now in my childhood I was crazy about drawing the deep ocean. Do I remember to do that? Do I remember how important or impactful that was? Not so much, but my parents (lets say) planted that memory on me a few years after that actually happen. Its a quite design process, no? The way you had draw something, give it to a relative and years later that come back as a memory from someone else. Is a kind of eco… and maybe that ’s what design is about.

On my age of 16th I was in the middle art school, having Art History, Drawings, Geometry and that kind of things. At the same time I started to look around mainly to what was happening on the streets on the city I live (Porto). Something that popped up was the street art and how the stickers start to appear in the walls and in the street signs. Almost all of that stickers were incredibly well design, with nice colours, perfect strokes and so on. What lead to a question… How they can do it? Where do they draw it? (in those times I just was familiar with Word, Exel and paint software). Those questions brought me in a journey where I found an artistic school where they were teaching how to use specific software to make “perfect drawings”. It was a graphic design course and the beginning of my life as graphic designer.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

Well, first I was studying graphic design in the High school called Arvore, that was specialised in art courses. That was my very first experience related with graphic design and probably the most important one. Beside the opportunity to be in a school that this complete focus on the professional practice I had two amazing internships that opened my eyes to the graphic design world - first at Martino&Jana Design and at White Studio from Eduardo Aires. Those’s experiences made me discover what I wanted to do for life. In order to do that I decided two things: go to the university to continuing study design (ESAD - College of Art and Design) and work on my own projects. So, fifty percent of my time was for study the other fifty percent to work. Because I wanted to work while I was at the university to explore even more my graphic design skills. I was a quite pain in the ass I must say…I was searching everywhere for this experiences. From theatre companies to cultural associations. Of course I got a lot of “no’s”, worst them that I got a lot of “silence”. And time to time I was getting some commissions to do manly posters and some editorial projects. Probably the very first professional projects I got was to make poster for a cultural association called “Terra na Boca” (2010) and re-designing the newspaper JUP (2012). Since them I never stop working.

Design work by Atelier d’Alves The Design Kids interviews Atelier d’Alves work-2

What does a typical working day include for you right now?

That’s simply impossible to define… I start with the breakfast, I take my kid to the kindergarten and after that it’s a trip to the unknown. Because I’m running a small studio I need to manage a lot of different things and deal with a big range of matters. I can pass two, three, four days without actually designing. The meetings with clients for example take a lot of time, to answer emails, to go to the printers and so on. In a certain way sometimes that can be really unproductive (for the design side) but in the other way when I finally seat down and open the Indesign is almost a therapeutic moment. In the middle of that, I always try to have some time to just look around… go to a bookshop, go to a museum, have lunch with someone or just simply walk around in the downtown. Because in those moments, when I'm not focused on work (supposedly) is when I can stumble into something that will make me find some visual reference to a project. In a certain way is quite important to me to be able to be surprised by the “unknown” and even more important is to accept that some ideas and solutions can appear from nowhere.

Are you involved in any teaching and if and how it shapes your practice?

From the beginning I knew I could not be just a graphic designer. Indeed I think a graphic designer is always the result of different experiences and interests.

So I was (I’m) always involved with design associations and schools that organize lectures, workshops, design meetings, awards and so on. Of course that was a result of my design practice but still I was looking at it in a little bit different perspective. Why? Because when I’m making for example some presentation for a lecture I’m questioning myself and look to my work in a different way. At least with a more pragmatic and mature view. I’m saying that because the daily life of a designer (at least mine) is always to be in a rush and most of the time I don’t have time to seat, look at what I’ve made and meditate about it. So the lecture is the perfect excuse to stop and ask myself: what you have to say? What was the meaning of that project? Why it was important? Why it didn’t worked?… Design is always a reflection of someone ideas into the the world. The way the reflection come back to you is still part of the design process and essential to improve our practice. But of course shaping the practice is not just focus on my own work. The work of other ones and the way you can be confronted with it is important as well.

This year I started teaching at ESMAD (School of Media Arts and Design) in the animation and game design course. Yes, in the beginning it was quite strange because I was talking to people who literally live in the digital world, so talk about CYMK, printing and paper is something that is not in the students vocabulary. In the first day of the class I took to them a few books that we have designed (they were fascinated for example how Cassandra appear to be “interactive”) and the reaction was amazing. Something like “oh, I was not touching a book from a really long time”. But in the other hand they are talking about some subjects that doesn’t mean nothing to me. So the combination of this two factors just could be wonderful right? I’m not talking to graphic designers, I’m talking to game designers that look to graphic design as another tool to serve a bigger propose. So I was confronted with that hierarchy of priorities let’s say…I needed to understand graphic design is not the center of the world! And of course that is true… even in my practice sometimes I’m dealing with a client as if the design is an excuse in itself. “Why you are doing it? Because it’s design”… “Why you don’t try another approach? Because isn’t design.” Wrong! Design is an answer to a specific question that was made by someone. If you are not able to understand who was the person who made the question you will never find the best answer to it.

Design work by Atelier d’Alves The Design Kids interviews Atelier d’Alves work-4
Design work by Atelier d’Alves The Design Kids interviews Atelier d’Alves work-4

It is quite important to me to be able to be surprised by the “unknown” and even more important is to accept that some ideas and solutions can appear from nowhere.

Tell us about any collaborations you have been working on.

One of the strongest points of my studio is precisely the collaborations. I never wanted to have a big studio that would need to feed with projects every day to sustain it. But all the romantic views have a dark side, in order to run something like that I was confronted with one major problem: How I will answer to such diverse market if I don’t have a big team? Collaborations! This system is perfect in a way that I can find the perfect “partners in crime” with the perfect skills to get the perfect answer to some project. And of course, is always amazing to meet new people and have the opportunity to be challenged by them too. For example, one of the most regular collaboration I have is with the illustrator José Cardoso. I have been working in all kind of project with him (branding, signage, editorial), but probably the one that explain better how happy is this marriage was the book “Bartolina Busca-Pé… e o Zé”. The author of the book reach us asking to design something that could be very typographic but at the same way very illustrative. I start the project reading the book and in the end the answer for me was obvious: we need José Cardoso illustrations! I presented the José’s work to the author, we got the approval and we were all working as a big happy family (the author included). When the book was published the author had the best reaction I could expect: “I couldn’t imagine how this book could be, but now definitely I could not image to be like no other way than this.” At the moment, as studio, we are trying to develop side projects related with language and social experiences with of course a design approach. The “World Within Word” installation is a good example and, once again, we have been working in a collaboration mode, this time with the designer Henrique Nascimento”.

Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?

For sure I don’t have an answer for this, even because the world is changing in a very unpredictable way. Internet, digital space, new technology, robots… blah blah blah… yes but, what is truly changing the world is the human factor, the way we use the technology, the way we connect to each other’s, the way we think, imagine and build something. It always had been about the human factor and it always going to be. So if somehow the softwares, for example, are making possible some new approaches to the design practice what truly validates that is the way designers will going to use and push it to the next level. If we reach the next level with the new software, that will challenge us again. And it goes around and around. But in a very practical way, for sure I will be doing something that doesn’t exist now… five years ago I was not doing anything for Instagram and suddenly every client wants it. The same even with Facebook, apps and so on. The challenge, in this case, was not to adapt to new formats but how to manage the time available to the design process. As basic as this: a few years ago we could spend two weeks designing a poster… now we have exactly the same time (or less) and we need to design the poster, the Facebook cover, the Instagram picture, the twitter banner and more one thousand formats. So what I believe it will be the challenge and my biggest concern (yes, the minutes, the hours, the days) is how it will affect the design process, thinking the time will be shorter and shorter in a world that will be faster and faster.

Design work by Atelier d’Alves The Design Kids interviews Atelier d’Alves work-6
Design work by Atelier d’Alves The Design Kids interviews Atelier d’Alves work-6

Where to find Atelier d’Alves online.


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